No doubt the Obama administration is fast at work sharpening their knives to slice and dice Paul Ryan as lacking the foreign policy chops to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. They will claim the GOP’s traditional national security advantage is forfeit and now belongs to Obama-the-Usama-Slayer and the Democrats.
But they couldn’t be more wrong. By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has made an inspired choice – on foreign policy grounds!
First, the greatest long-term national security threat the United States faces isn’t China, or Russia, or Al Qaeda. It’s our dwindling economic power. We’ve got a stagnant economy, a deficit that leaves us vulnerable to countries that hold our debt, and, so far, the inability to match our resources to our expenditures. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullin has said many times, “the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”
If America doesn’t get its economic house in order, the markets will do it for us. We will be forced into a prolonged period of austerity and such extreme frugality that there will be little left in our coffers for defense spending, or intelligence gathering, or foreign assistance. Foreign policy will be collateral damage. The world will see us as a paper tiger. They will not only ignore our wishes, the rising powers will take advantage of our weakness. Without strong economies to support them, great powers become former great powers within a few years. Look at Japan. Or Europe.
Second, Romney doesn’t need a vice president to work with America’s most important ally in dealing with America’s biggest enemy. America’s greatest near-term national security dilemma is how to prevent the Iranian regime from getting nuclear weapons. The key to dealing with it successfully is the American-Israeli relationship. Usually, countries have interests, but not necessarily friends. Not in this case. The personal relationship between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel is the key to stopping a nuclear Iran without triggering a regional war that draws us in.
The Obama administration has apparently promised Israel that the U.S. will stop Iran’s nuclear program, by force if necessary, but needs more time. Does Prime Minister Netanyahu believe Obama will keep his word? If not, he will feel no choice but to launch Israel’s own strike against Iran, sooner rather than later. And while Israel can start a war, it can’t finish it. America would be drawn in.
Romney and Netanyahu were co-workers 40 years ago, and have remained close friends. They “finish each other’s sentences.” A President Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu don’t have to agree on everything, but they must have confidence in each other. Romney doesn’t need a vice president to tell him how to gain the Israeli prime minister’s confidence; he’s already got it.
Third, a president doesn’t need his vice president to be the action officer on foreign affairs. A vice president, or president for that matter, doesn’t have to be able to name the foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan. That’s why they’ve got a Cabinet and advisers. If anyone is worried Romney-Ryan won’t know enough about foreign affairs to choose the right advisers, let them appoint a triumvirate of Wise Men to guide them. Get the most respected and successful former Republican Secretaries of State -- Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker -- to recommend Romney’s Cabinet picks.
I’ve worked for three presidents, and the best of them was Ronald Reagan. People used to say Reagan didn’t know enough about foreign affairs to be president. But he knew enough to win the Cold War without firing a shot, which all the diplomats, academics and experts before him had failed to do. I doubt if Reagan could have found Kyrgyzstan on a map, and I’m sure he couldn’t spell it. But by pushing the Soviet Union to collapse, he liberated it.
Reagan understood that America’s free market capitalism is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. And he understood that before using it to defeat the Soviet Empire, he would have to bring it back to health. To do so would require not just the right policies, but also the resolve to carry them out, and the ability to explain to the American people why shared sacrifice was necessary. Reagan spent his first term fixing the economy by cutting taxes, streamlining excessive regulations, championing small business and rebuilding the military. It allowed him to use economic warfare against the Soviet Union in his second term.
A sage observer of world affairs told me recently that America’s biggest problem was it had lost faith in itself, and the world was picking up on our self doubt and losing faith in us, too. He said our problems were significant, but nothing compared to what we had overcome in the past. The difference was we no longer believed we could solve them.
Our leaders – of both parties – have been more concerned with getting reelected, than righting the ship of state. We’ve had leaders willing to pander the people, rather than level with them.
As a result, the American people have bought into the notion that our best days are behind us, that we are a once-great nation now on the decline. Increasingly, the national conversation is sprinkled with ominous warnings that our system no longer works, that we are hopelessly divided, that we’ve become ungovernable. Our politicians engage in slash-and-burn character assassinations to get elected, rather than talk to the American people about our problems and offer tough, but sound, solutions.
I can’t help but be reminded of the 1980 election, with Carter versus Reagan. Four years before, Jimmy Carter had been elected on the promise that he would be a different kind of president. But with one failure after another, and blaming everyone but himself, Carter was reduced to whining that America was in the grips of malaise. In 1980, he was tossed out of office by a man who promised to restore the shining city on a hill, not with soaring rhetoric alone, but with sound economic and defense policies.
2012 is shaping up to be 1980 all over again. Compare Obama’s “you didn’t build that” with Paul Ryan’s call to arms that “We won’t duck the tough issues...we will lead!
“We won’t blame others…we will take responsibility!
“We won’t replace our founding principles…we will reapply them!
By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has crossed the Rubicon into Reagan land. He has wedded himself to the Ryan budget and there is no turning back. Romney-Ryan are now committed to doing what no politicians in any of the mature democracies have had the guts to do, but must do to put our economies back in order – tackle entitlement reform. Romney’s choice of Ryan signals that he is willing to level with the American people about the seriousness of the problems we face. Their blueprint for solving them will be hard on all of us, but the shared sacrifices of today will restore our economic vitality for the next generation. That, in turn, will be the greater guarantor that our nation remain secure, and we resume our role as the world’s leading superpower.